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What’s the Best Deck Stain to Use?

When you’re looking to treat your decking, finding the best deck stain really isn’t too demanding if you start off by asking the right questions.

As with any buying decision, rushing in without proper forethought is a recipe for disaster.

So, before anything else, drill down on precisely what you intend to accomplish and ask yourself a few key questions:

  • Are you looking for a deck stain with the longest lifespan?
  • How much importance do you attach to ease of application?
  • Is budget your primary concern when hunting for the best wood deck stain?
  • Are you looking for oil-based deck stain or would you prefer water-based stain?
  • What type of finish are you looking to get?

We’ll guide you through some of the key areas to consider when choosing the best wood deck stain and this should help you address the above questions more easily.

You Don’t Need To Spend a Fortune for Long-Lasting Deck Stain

If you want a stain that will last, it’s not essential to buy the most expensive possible stain.

You can quite easily get away with spending $50/gallon or less and still find a stain that will have quality.

Take lengthy warranties with a pinch of salt since even the best stain applied to a horizontal surface will fade after being exposed to UV rays, lashing rain, and constant foot traffic. It will need reapplication soon enough.

Oil-Based Stain vs. Water-Based Stain

A couple of decades back, oil-based stains were undeniably the best option. Easy to apply and long-lasting, oil-based stains also repel water neatly while inhibiting mold growth. This type of stain also helps to stop the wood from cracking and warping.

Oil-based stain is not without its drawbacks, though. Drying can take fully 48 hours, and you’ll need to use a strong solvent to clean off your brushes when you’re done. Flammable in its wet state, oil-based stain also contains VOCs (volatile organic compounds). This has led to manufacturers of oil-based stains changing up the formula. However, there is another option…

Water-based deck stain is much lower in those harmful VOCs, so it’s easier on the environment as well as kicking off far fewer fumes. Clean-up is straightforward with nothing but soap and water. Once you’re done, the stain will be dry in a couple of hours.

Oil-based stain tends to cost around $25-45/gallon while water-based stain is pricier at $40-75/gallon.

How About The Opacity?

The opacity or pigment of the stain is about more than just getting the color you want.

Here are your 4 main options:

  • Toner: Toner is close to a sealer and will impart precious little color to your decking. You can protect your deck from the elements, but you’ll need to reapply this type of stain on an annual basis
  • Semi-Transparent: The most popular of all deck stains, you’ll give your decking a healthy dose of color without obscuring the natural grain. This type of stain needs reapplication every 2 to 3 years
  • Semi-Opaque: Frequently known as semi-solid, you’ll get a deep, rich color but most of the wood grain will be hidden. Plan to recoat every 3 to 4 years
  • Opaque: A solid stain, this is the deepest pigment available and lasts for up to 5 years. Don’t expect to see any wood grain showing through with an opaque stain

Don’t Forget to Prep

Once you’ve chosen the right stain for your needs, preparation is key.

Most people think that simply using a pressure washer on their deck is sufficient. While this is an option, it’s not going to allow you to get the maximum lifespan out of your deck stain.

Washing and sanding along with the application of a wood cleaner and brightener can help open the pores of the wood so the stain can properly absorb. The more the stain is able to soak in, the longer it will last.

This is what makes deck stain last. The deeper they soak in, the stronger their bond is with the wood. Now, this is assuming that the wood stain is made with high-quality resins that will actually soak in and bond in the first place. Using a cheap, poor quality deck stain that just lays on the surface isn’t going to do you much good, no matter how well you prep the surface.

What Is The Best Deck Stain?

We performed some ongoing tests on a variety of the best wood deck stains.

To document how well each of these stains performed, we installed overhead cameras and took a daily photo over the course of a year. You can check out the top performers from this long-term test right here.

For your home, you’ll have to do some research to see what is the best deck stain. The type of wood you use, the environment in which you live, and your budget will all help you determine which stain works best for your deck.

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